Cáin Adomnáin ‘The Law of Adomnán’

  • Old Irish
  • prose
  • Early Irish law texts, Irish religious texts

Old Irish legal-ecclesiastical text originating in a law which was promulgated at the 697 Synod of Birr (Co. Offaly) and was apparently drafted by Adomnán, abbot of Iona. The law sought to exempt women, children, clergy and other non-combatants from combat in warfare.

Cáin Adomnáin
‘The Law of Adomnán’
The cáin promulgated is also referred to in Irish annals as Lex Innocentium ‘Law of the Innocents’.
First words (prose)
  • Cóic amsira rīa ngein Crīst
Ascribed to: Adomnán
(fl. c.628–704)
Adomnán mac Rónáin was abbot of Iona (r. 679–704) and author of the Latin Life of St Columba and an account of the holy places of the Near East (De locis sanctis). He is credited with the proclamation of the Lex innocentium or Cáin Adomnáin at the Synod of Birr.

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91 prominent guarantors are listed, including kings, bishops and other clergy.
Lebor Rátha Bothae
Manuscript belonging to the monastery of Ráith Both (Raphoe, Co. Donegal), now lost. In the exemplar of the Brussels MS below, it was apparently acknowledged as a source.
Manuscript written by Cú Mumhan mac Tuathail Í Clerigh, a cousin of Mícheál Ó Cléirigh (now lost)
  • Old Irish
  • Old Irish

prose (primary)


Early Irish law textsEarly Irish law texts

Irish religious textsIrish religious texts


Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

[ed.] [tr.] Ó Néill, Pádraig P., and David N. Dumville [eds. and trs.], Cáin Adomnáin and Canones Adomnani, Basic Texts in Gaelic History, 2, Cambridge: Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, University of Cambridge, 2003.
[ed.] [tr.] Márkus, Gilbert, Adomnán's ‘Law of the Innocents’ — Cáin Adomnáin: a seventh-century law for the protection of non-combatants, 2nd ed., Kilmartin, Argyll: Kilmartion House Trust, 2008.
[ed.] [tr.] Meyer, Kuno [ed. and tr.], Cáin Adamnáin: an Old-Irish treatise on the law of Adamnan, Anecdota Oxoniensia, Mediaeval and Modern Series, 12, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905.  
comments: For corrigenda, see Archiv für celtische Lexikographie 3 (1907): 108.
Internet Archive: <link> Internet Archive: <link>
[corr.] Meyer, Kuno, “Notes on the Oxford edition of Cáin Adamnáin”, Archiv für celtische Lexikographie 3 (1907): 108.
Internet Archive: <link>
[tr.] Ní Dhonnchadha, Máirín [tr.], “The Law of Adomnán: a translation”, in: Thomas OʼLoughlin (ed.), Adomnán at Birr, AD 697. Essays in commemoration of the Law of the Innocents, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001. 53–68.

Secondary sources (select)

Ní Dhonnchadha, Máirín, “Birr and the Law of the Innocents”, in: Thomas OʼLoughlin (ed.), Adomnán at Birr, AD 697. Essays in commemoration of the Law of the Innocents, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001. 13–32.
Ní Dhonnchadha, Máirín, “The guarantor list of Cáin Adomnáin, 697”, Peritia 1 (1982): 178–215.
Breatnach, Liam, A companion to the Corpus iuris Hibernici, Early Irish Law Series, 5, Dublin: DIAS, 2005.  

A companion to D. A. Binchy, CIH (1978). Review article: Neil McLeod, ‘Review,A true companion to the Corpus iuris Hibernici’, Peritia 19 (2005).

202–204 [id. 5.19. ‘Cáin Adomnáin’]
Kenney, James F., “Chapter III: The Irish church in the ‘Celtic’ period”, in: James F. Kenney, The sources for the early history of Ireland: an introduction and guide. Volume 1: ecclesiastical, Revised ed., 11, New York: Octagon, 1966. 156–287.
245–246 [id. 81.]
C. A., Dennis Groenewegen
Page created
February 2011, last updated: January 2024